The Great Libertarian War of August 2017: Reflections and (another) Mea Culpa

So I decided to post this on my blog, a) because I haven’t used it in over two years, and b) doing ultra long Facebook posts some times grates on me and hopefully this will be a more useful format for sharing.

I want to begin with a mea culpa: I was wrong about Jeff Deist’s speech. When the ‘blood and soil’ line from his speech was first circulated, I posted it in a couple of libertarian Facebook groups, saying it was messed up. Not long after, I gave my first mea culpa as I realized I wasn’t giving Jeff Deist the benefit of the doubt, as I should have – I jumped to a conclusion that he meant it in one particular way, when a plain reading could equally have me fall on down on a more generous interpretation instead. I said so at the time, and I having heard the audio of the speech, and Tom Wood’s defense of Jeff’s speech on his podcast, I want to publicly state that I was wrong about what Jeff meant by using the phrase ‘blood and soil’ and the potential for libertarians to be irrelevant for ignoring it – my initial reaction had me taking it as a call to get chummy with alt-right types, whereas I think he meant it just as a statement of how others see the world, and to engage meaningfully with those concerns. In that second regard, I actually wholeheartedly agree with Jeff’s call – I believe libertarianism and the liberal worldview has a compelling answer to appeals to nativism and insularity, and I try to promote those values whenever I can.

I have a wider set of concerns coming out of this whole incident, centred on libertarian tribalism. I want to begin at the outset in saying that I think people will always be tribal and that I am not so naive to make some kumbayah sermon about how libertarians should all get along. And to be fair, I don’t enough about the history of the last 30 years of the libertarian movement in the US to conclusively state that the Mises Institute hasn’t harboured some people with ugly views about race, as I’ve heard people I respect (including Steve Horwitz) claim about them. My interaction with the Mises Institute crowd is limited to hearing Hans-Hermann Hoppe on ABC’s Counterpoint 6-7 years ago talking about Democracy: The God That Failed, hearing Walter Block debate Reason’s Nick Gillespie at the Soho Forum a few months back, and having listened to Tom Wood’s podcast for the last couple of months, so make of my comments what you will.

It is one thing to have different views and it is another to colour those differing views with personal attacks. I can see why Steve Horwitz would be so incensed over the use of the term ‘blood and soil’ and I can see why Tom Woods saw it as harmless – what I cannot understand is why it has to come with name calling, vituperative mockery and tribalism. Taking a dispute and then descending into corners (Mises Institute in one corner, and the Cato Institute in the other) is just plain stupid and petulant. No single libertarian or libertarian organisation can conclusively say everything that is true or useful on libertarianism, and so there is no competition here. Mises Institute has a particular output and approach and the Cato Institute has its own output and approach, and it would be strange to think that there is no value to be gained from reading/listening to the contributions both make to the libertarian cause.

In my own life, I can see that both either has made or will in the future make a contribution to my own life and thinking – without the Cato Institute, Steve Horwitz and Tom Palmer, I wouldn’t know a fraction of what I know about libertarianism. Cato produces podcasts at a prolific rate and I have listened to most of their shows religiously for years now, and Cato University (under the directorship of Tom Palmer, and heavily featuring his contributions) has been instrumental in helping me understand libertarianism and the liberal worldview. I think Cato’s policy work is a model for how libertarians can seriously engage with the politics of the day with solid research and tireless advocacy. And Steve Horwitz’s videos at Learn Liberty were also very helpful as I was learning about libertarianism, and his one on how prices ensure that we will never run out of resources is still my go-to video on the issue. I know he has also made valuable contributions as a speaker to the work of the Institute for Liberal Studies, where I interned over the Australian uni winter break, and if Matt and Janet Bufton tell me he is a great guy, then who am I to disagree?

I’ve also really enjoyed Tom Wood’s podcasts over the last couple of months – I find him to be an enthusiastic and energetic host, with a strong desire to promote entrepreneurship as a practical means of achieving liberty, and his shows are almost always interesting and informative. As a budding Austrian economist, I can see how both Tom Woods and the Mises Institute as a whole will probably play an important ongoing part in my life, as they are a bastion of Austrian thinking, and I know I will need that as a libertarian who by circumstance is just kind of floating out there on my own. One of the my long term goals is to write a book on the practicalities of starting a private city, and if I was going to go anywhere to seriously understand Rothbard and his thinking (a critical thinker for anarcho-capitalism), I’d be mad not to make use of the Mises Institute’s resources.

And to an extent, I can understand why there is a division between them, especially when considering the formation of the libertarian community in the US. From my reading of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, I can see why a bunch of individualistic freethinkers living on the fringes of politics might end up rubbing each other the wrong way, especially when you have people like Rothbard, who had the touch of the troll about them over the course of decades. It’s also not hard to see why philosophical differences might lead to personal discord in such a small group of people – what is hard to understand is why it would continue, especially amongst people for whom those personal beefs are not their monkey, and therefore not their circus.

I saw some photos taken at MisesU by an attendee, standing with a bunch of the different speakers and one was with Jeff Deist with the comment ‘We need more Jeff Deist and less Steve Horwitz’. Now, the guy might be being flippant for all I know (he is some random who tagged someone who I know through Friedman conference this year, which is why the photos popped up in my Feed) but I’m sure some would take that attitude for realsies, and to that I would say: we need more of both! We need more Mises and more Hayek and more Friedman and more Rand and more Rothbard and more Roberts and more Boudreaux and more Palmer and more Woods and more of anyone else who takes liberty seriously and wants to put in effort to promote it in a world that takes the liberties of others very unseriously. Unlike the apostle Paul, we rarely can be all things for all people in our efforts to persuade – for some, the hard line property rights approach and appreciation of cultural conservatism of the Mises Institute will appeal; for others, a more liberal cultural world view of Tom Palmer or David Boaz will appeal; for others still, the consequentialist approach and decidedly less hardcore neoliberal approach of a guy like Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute will be very appealing. The great thing is that you’d have to reduce the size and scope of the state a heck of a lot before you get to the point where you would have no issues of shared concern and approach between those three broad categories, and I pray that God would be so merciful as to get us to the world where the state has been so reduced that the differences between anarchists and minarchists is a foremost concern. In the mean time, it’s a big world and libertarians of any stripe aren’t in competition with each other – there is more than enough scope to keep our snarking within the realm of polite disagreement with one another and then go back to providing our own distinctive contributions to liberty. Future generations of libertarians don’t need to be sustaining the grudges and gripes of our predecessors.

I say all of this with the recognition that I have spent my fair share of time as a keyboard warrior on social media, and have certainly dished out my fair share of snark too, so I’m going to pretend that I am some sort of innocent dove, unsullied by the rough-and-tumble of social media interactions. However, I don’t think I have harboured any grudges, nor gotten particularly personal with people for whom my differences are primarily intellectual (if I have, I unreservedly apologise), and I would more than happily share time on my podcast with guys like Tim Wilms from The Unshackled, whom I have substantial disagreements with over substance and strategy. It is important that divisions amongst libertarians don’t become insurmountable barriers, for that there are so few of us, and the task before us is so inordinate, that we can’t afford to be gunning each other down in a circular firing squad. It would seem pretty silly that a group of people who champion the flourishing of a thousand blooms and the endless potential of the market would lock themselves into a way of think that ignored the possibility that others might make meaningful contributions to the growth of liberty, and instead pursue a winner-takes-all approach.

So in that regard, I would encourage my fellow libertarians to give the side-picking a rest – it is neither usefully nor edifying. The virtue of being an individualist means that you don’t have to even pick a side: you lose nothing by respecting those who say/write things of substance, even if isn’t your cup of tea. Where you see others engaging in name calling (even people with profile in the movement) and whatnot, rise above it – don’t get sucked into their games. Everyone will approach liberty in their own way and no one can be you except you, so why begrudge those who aren’t you?

Letter to the Editor – Prices, not bureaucracy, is what we need for taxis

My letter to the editor of the Busselton Dunsborough Times:

Jeff Devenny has called for more taxis but the Dept of Transport is the enemy in this fight, not his friend (Taxi time headache, Busselton Dunsborough Times, 23/01/2015). We already have a way of mediating changes in demand for goods and services and they are called prices. Basic economics tells us that when demand rises, prices goes up, which in turn stimulates supply by drawing in new entrants to the market with the prospect of making money and it is no different when it comes to taxis. If taxis were subject to genuine competition, the opportunity to make an extra buck in peak times would encourage more people to get out onto the roads, instead of staying at home. Unfortunately, our current system kills those incentives because the government has created a taxi cartel and has fixed prices, which artificially restricts competition and means that consumers pay for the shortage of taxis with their time, instead of with money.

A system where the government can hand out new taxi plates by its own discretion will never work, and we see that failure every time Busselton gets an influx of tourists. What taxi drivers and consumers need is an end to the government’s meddling in the taxi industry for the benefit of plate owners through deregulation, which would let prices do their important work in increasing supply of taxis at critical times and ensuring that consumers get a reliable, efficient and high quality service at peak times.

Lee Herridge
Yalyalup, Busselton.

Song of the Day–28/2/14

This song by Korn is also in the ‘Loving this song right now’ category. Lean, menacing and with an awesome chorus, I think this is Korn when they are at their best. While the guitars and bass don’t have the particular sound from that Life Is Peachy/Freak on a Leash era, I still think this is a great sounding song. I’m definitely gonna have to check out the rest of this album.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcACvjXuclA

Nazis were socialists, not capitalists

Dan Hannan hits the nail on the head when it comes to trying to link free market policies and facism:

To be absolutely clear, I don’t believe that modern Leftists have subliminal Nazi leanings, or that their loathing of Hitler is in any way feigned. That’s not my argument. What I want to do, by holding up the mirror, is to take on the equally false idea that there is an ideological continuum between free-marketers and fascists.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

Song of the Day – 27/2/14

This excellent pop track by Sky Ferreira is currently getting a good workout on my iPod at the moment. The bass, beats and guitar have a real familiar 80s vibe for me, reminding me of me of the general sound of pop music in my very early years. It certainly is impressive that she injured herself on stage, giving herself a cut that required 60 stitches, but still managed to finish her set.

Freedom, discrimination and SB 1062

Ilya Shapiro has a great article up at Cato:

The prototypical scenario that SB 1062 is meant to prevent is the case of the New Mexico wedding photographer who was fined for declining to work a same-sex commitment ceremony. This photographer doesn’t refuse to provide services to gay clients, but felt that she couldn’t participate in the celebration of a gay wedding. There’s also the Oregon bakerythat closed rather than having to provide wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies. Why should these people be forced to engage in activity that violates their religious beliefs?

For that matter, gay photographers and bakers shouldn’t be forced to work religious celebrations, Jews shouldn’t be forced to work Nazi rallies, and environmentalists shouldn’t be forced to work job fairs in logging communities. This isn’t the Jim Crow South; there are plenty of wedding photographers – over 100 in Albuquerque – and bakeries who would be willing to do business regardless of sexual orientation, and no state is enforcing segregation laws. I bet plenty of Arizona businesses would and do see more customers if they advertised that they welcomed the LGBT community.

Let’s be clear – the cause for this Bill is that homosexual couples have come after Christians, who have refused to participate in their wedding ceremonies, in the courts. If you are going to use the courts as a weapon to beat your ideological opponents with, don’t be surprised if they want to defend themselves with the law also.

SB 1062 wasn’t like the horrendous Jim Crow laws in the US, where governments forced racial segregation on their populations. In that case, the state was denying freedom of association – businesses were happy to serve their black customers in the same way as their white customers and the government said that was unacceptable and forced them to be racist. As best I can tell, SB 1062 would’ve have just clarified that you can do what you want with your stuff, which is the very basis for all freedom. It doesn’t all religious businesses to take other people’s stuff or hit them; it doesn’t allow them  meddle in the affairs of other businesses – it just allows a religious person to do what they want with their own stuff.

My only quibble with this Bill is that the criteria was based on religion. The State shouldn’t force anyone to provide a service they don’t want to – their reasoning doesn’t matter. If you want to be racist with how you operate your business, that is your right. If you want to refuse to participate in a homosexual wedding ceremony (something I don’t have a problem with but I understand why other Christians do), that is your right. If you don’t want to participate in a Christian wedding ceremony, that is your right. The State has no legitimate authority to tell you what is the ethical use of your own property.

I can appreciate that this might be a bitter pill to swallow for homosexuals and their allies – the US, like many countries, has a substantial history of very real and violent persecution of homosexuals, which should never be forgotten. It is evil when the State picks a minority to target for violence or harassment, or turn a blind eye to private players doing the same. However, two wrongs do not make a right and homosexuals and their allies should police their own when it comes to using the courts or the State as weapons in the Culture War. It is unacceptable in a free society to coerce businesses to provide a service they find unconscionable and whatever its flaws were, SB 1062 stood for those values.

Update: Ilya Shapiro has made another, very excellent, comment.

Hack asks the right questions on agricultural handouts

I have been pretty critical of Triple J in the past but today on Hack, Tom Tilley really turned the screws onto Barnaby Joyce, Federal Agricultural Minister, about the recent announcement of handouts to farmers (listen from the 24min mark):

Tilley points out the truth – that farming isn’t anything special, that they aren’t the only business with long term time frames for revenue and that they need to plan more for the future. The paucity of Joyce’s arguments is exposed when Tilley pointed out the economic truth about farming, that maybe the future is in getting bigger – he falls back to a political argument (he can’t sell it), a cultural argument (that small family farms are inherently good) and a distraction (that the ABC is exposed to the same argument, which is true). In the end, Joyce has no credible economic argument for these handouts – it is a political fix for a favoured group of constituents.

Tilley would do well to interview LDP Senator-elect for NSW, David Leyonhjelm, who slays the arguments for agricultural subsidies.